2011 ArtsFunds Breakfast, June 17, 2011
By Janet Carl Smith
32 Years in the arts community has given me lots of experience and knowledge about how the arts sector works. Over the last five months since I stepped away from my complete immersion in this world my perspective on the value of the arts in our community has broadened. I’ve been fortunate to attend some inspirational seminars and conferences lately that have helped crystallize some of my ideas.
Here are some insights I’d like to share with you in the hopes that they will help you more effectively spend those checks you’re receiving today!
You cannot work in isolation. Each of you is part of a larger arts sector that consists of:
- Large cultural institutions, community based arts organizations and informal collectives
- A range of artistic disciplines from music, dance, theatre, visual arts, media
- Artists who work in classrooms, studios, performance halls, community centers, creative industries and in cyberspace
- Art producers, presenters, educators, protectors, advocates and supporters
- Organizations developed as 501(c)3 entities and as for profit commercial businesses
- A supportive infrastructure that consists of arts service organizations, colleges and universities, and foundation, corporate and government funders
- People who have made art their profession, those who produce art for their personal enjoyment, and audience members whose greatest pleasure is experiencing the creative output of others
Beyond the arts world, you inhabit a larger community.
Here in Oak Park, River Forest, and Forest Park, there are businesses, civic organizations, education institutions, social service agencies, religious institutions, and people who support your work as well as others who feel it isn’t relevant to their lives.
There are basic issues that this larger community wants to address: providing a quality education for its youth; creating jobs for people so they can make a living; offering opportunities for diverse communities to come together and learn about each other; assuring that people feel safe in their homes and on the streets; strengthening the local economy so businesses can thrive; and improving the quality of life for all residents.
As arts organizations you share some basic needs:
- Freedom to create an artistic product or experience
- Space to house this artistic output
- Audiences for your programs
- People resources as staff and volunteers
- Services to support your creative and management activities
- Money…both contributed and earned…to make it all happen
So what can you as arts leaders do for yourselves and your organizations.
Focus on doing what you do best…producing art, presenting the work of others, teaching people to tap their own creative potential. Make sure that your mission is really a day by day guide for what you do rather than a statement brought out just for grant applications. Add that important positioning statement that clarifies how what you do is important, of high quality and valued by a community.
Make sure your audience is a central part of whatever work you do…ask them for their opinions and feedback in addition to their demographic information and their money. Find ways to engage them in your work and actually respond to their ideas about what they want from you. In describing the characteristics of successful organizations at a recent Wallace Foundation conference, Ben Cameron of the Doris Duke Foundation said that they have their audience at the center of their mission. This doesn’t mean that you make or present art that strives to be popular; it means that you know what your audience members value and how you can engage them in your work.
Collaborate with your colleagues, looking for ways that you can each benefit from working together. Enlarge that circle of colleagues to include other disciplines, cultures and working models. Invest the time in getting to know each other so you understand what differences and similarities you bring as assets and needs to your common work. Learn to trust and take some risks with each other, but also be realistic about when the commitment doesn’t lead to added value for each of you.
Bring the same creativity to your management as you do to your artistic product. As Designer and Artist Damon Rich said in a recent arts symposium, “add Imagination to Administration.” Explore innovative models from other businesses to develop your skills and methods for getting your work done more effectively. Read commercial business publications, attend seminars outside your field, talk with your friends in other professions and “try on” some new ideas to see if they fit your management needs.
Participate actively as citizens, learn about local needs and develop ideas for how your work can make your community a better place to live and work. The arts are a powerful partner in strengthening the social fabric of a community and enhancing the quality of life for its people. Your programs bring people together for public celebration and offer communal experiences that help build bridges between neighborhoods and cultures.
Artists and arts educators offer opportunities for people of all ages to develop their creative potential, learn new skills and knowledge, and become more comfortable at dealing with change.
Take a vacation from your day-to-day work! Look for professional development opportunities that improve your skills but also find time to read or listen to people who just inspire you. Schedule regular field trips to places that interest you and understand that those outings are legitimate. Volunteer for activities that have nothing to do with your work and develop passions that have nothing to do with the arts. You’ll probably return with new ideas as well as new energy. And make time to meet colleagues for breakfast, coffee, lunch, tea or drinks.
Thank you for listening to my thoughts this morning. I hope they are helpful. And let me also extend my thanks to you for all the good work you do to inspire us and make our lives richer.
For more info, please contact the Oak Park Area Arts Council at 708.358.5690.
Oak Park Area Arts Council
P.O. Box 950, Oak Park, IL 60303
Phone (708) 358-5690 Fascimille (708) 383-6692 E-mail: email@example.com.
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